LeVar Burton describes himself as an actor, director, educator and student, and that sounds about right to us. The former Star Trek: The Next Generation star remains busy on all those fronts, something that became clear during a sit-down interview with the actor conducted last month at Creation Entertainment’s Official Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas. Looking healthy and sharp, dressed all in black and sporting shades, Burton spoke passionately about Reading Rainbow, Star Trek, conventions, the hit series Perception and more over the course of a nearly 30-minute conversation. Below is part one of our exclusive interview and visit StarTrek.com again tomorrow for part two.
You’re here at Creation Entertainment’s big annual Star Trek convention. A lot of your TNG friends are here. How are you enjoying the experience?
How many autographs do you think you will end up signing over the course of the weekend?
BURTON: I don’t know. If I had to guess… a couple of thousand, I suppose.
What’s the strangest thing anyone’s ever asked you to sign.
BURTON: A baby.
A baby, wow…
BURTON: An actual infant.
Did you do it? Did you actually sign a baby?
BURTON: No. But they asked. (Laughs)
BURTON: Exactly. This summer we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Reading Rainbow brand. Our first episode of the television series aired on June 6th of 1983. So that was a big milestone for us. And, we celebrated the first year of the Reading Rainbow app, which was another big milestone for us.
How and why did the idea for the app become a reality?
BURTON: When PBS pulled Reading Rainbow out of the Ready to Learn lineup in 2009, it became an opportunity, really. The rights had been scattered to the four winds. When, essentially, PBS removed Reading Rainbow from the core curriculum for early childhood education on PBS, it was really akin to putting the show out to pasture. It seemed to me that the brand had not outlived its usefulness. There was a bit of a hubbub when PBS made that move. People were sad and upset that Reading Rainbow wouldn’t be there anymore for their children. Certainly the first generation of adults now grew up on the show. So, my business partner, Mark Wolfe, and I saw that as an opportunity, and that led to the app.
What elements of the app are you most excited about?
BURTON: I’m really excited that we were able to translate the television show into an app experience. What we discovered and what we settled upon was a library of books, a mobile of library. If you want to reach kids today you’ve got to be on a mobile device. So, we have over 300 books and counting, and over 85 videos. The Video Field Trips with LeVar are just like from the original television series, and I think that is one of the things that really distinguishes us in the marketplace. We are producing original content for kids, just like we did back in the day on the show. It’s LeVar out there in the world, giving you backstage, all-access look into some interesting or fascination aspect or facet of life that ties back in some way to literature.
You also have some of the classic Reading Rainbow material on the app. So, are you hearing from young kids checking out the old material and also parents checking out the new material that their kids are accessing?
BURTON: Both, yes. And I love that. Parents are introducing their kids to the older material, saying, “This is MY Reading Rainbow. This is the LeVar I grew up with.” Of course, my hairstyles and clothes, they’re all very 80’s, which is quite embarrassing. And I know that parents and looking at the new material because they want to know what their kids are watching.
It’s the 30th anniversary of Reading Rainbow. It’s 25-plus years now for The Next Generation. Are you starting to feel a little like Scotty in “Relics”?
BURTON: (Laughs) Oh, wow. That’s funny. Some days, yeah. Some days I do feel that way. What’s scarier is that Roots is 36 years old now. That’s scarier because it just seems like yesterday, and it’s not. It’s many years ago.